Lecture Hopping: the fourth President of the day

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Bwog newbie Pierce Stanley trailed PrezBo to (hopefully) his final event before a well-deserved rest (how does PrezBo relax? Hm.)  

sfFor a lecture hopper who braved the hordes on Broadway this afternoon only to find himself caught in the depths of an unusually dark and tense Roone Arledge Auditorium, witnessing the verbal smack down of the year, arriving at sun-drenched Low Rotunda for a speech by Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet was a welcome relief. With bright lights shining down on wooden podiums and the familiar World Leaders Forum banner in the rear, the audience found itself much more at ease than today’s Roone faithful.

Bachelet was welcomed by the same cast of characters from this afternoon: John “I would invite Hitler to speak” Coatsworth and PrezBo, remarkably fresh after several Fox News interviews.  Both were feeling downright effusive. Coatsworth told a long story about his work with Chilean exiles, while Bollinger announced Michelle Bachelet as an honorable defender of democracy and a world symbol of reconciliation.

After a suit change from this afternoon and having recovered his confident smile, PrezBo was back to his old self too. Describing her torture at the hands of the military, Bollinger praised Bachelet for her forgiveness, saying that she makes her torturers “carry a bag of guilt so that they can not even look her in the eye.”

Bachelet, an almost Hillary-esque figure in her sandy blond hair, eased into a quick speech about the nature of Latin American democracy and the challenges that modern Chile faces, particularly implementing healthcare and education programs.  While touting the establishment of democratic rule in many Latin American countries, Bachelet (a medical doctor and Chile’s first female defense minister) cautioned listeners about problems coming down the pike for Latin America, including the disenfranchisement of youth, extreme poverty, inflation, and steeply increasing income inequality. And then there’s the corruption, weak political structures, and a lack of accountability on the part of government officials. Between 1995 and 2007, fifteen different Latin American presidents have not been able to serve out their terms—but Chile will be different.  Bachelet noted that in order for the demands of democracy to be met, social changes are essential, segueing into a plug for the opening of nurseries during the first one hundred days of her presidency.

Bachelet drew laughs when describing the media’s tendency to oversimplify the nature of politics in Latin America.  “The media tries to put us in little boxes with different colors, and they try to organize us,” she said “We are going in the direction of all colors of the rainbow.”

The Q and A was particularly light, with only three or four softballs from Coatsworth about the extradition of Fujimori and the president’s experience in exile—but the Q and A was Bachelet’s chance to charm the crowd.  She took a question about the obstacles of being a female president in a Latin American political environment dominated by men. 

“Women’s coats are not the same as men’s coats,” she said with a wry smile. Men and women have the same capacity for politics, she argued, and the political game is one of experience—she should know, having played hard since 1970.  In a bit of a strange twist, Bachelet argued that female leaders are essential for “social cohesion programs” because “it is easy to be a woman and understand the needs of the people.”

That played well with the audience. “She was very a very impressive and positive speaker and showed how to hold one’s own as a woman in a world politically dominated by men,” said Sara Draper-Zivetz, Barnard ‘09, who asked Bachelet about women in politics. “She left me optimistic for the future of Latin American and Chile.”

Bachelet wrapped up her talk with a reference to John Donne – “No man is an island,” she warned as she discussed the values of what she termed “civic friendship.”  She noted that representative and participatory democracy is not enough for Chile, and we “have to build a culture of democracy and live it every day.”

And the kicker: Bachelet concluded by noting that in a democracy it is important to “put on the table your differences, especially with people who think differently, even if it is your worst enemy.” Hmm…. Sound familiar?


  1. spinoza  

    haha john donne... bachelet said it herself that she thought it was from hemmingway

  2. hume  

    too bad it's "hemingway"

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